Growing up, family meals happened every night — despite chores, school activities, homework and my parents’ schedules. Living in the country, it wasn’t an option to run into town for a meal. “Town” was a half-hour away.

My parents only went out on an occasional Friday night with a few neighboring friends, and when they did, it was a big deal. We’d stay home with a babysitter and have a TV dinner.

In my own family, that pattern has been harder to accomplish. Do we work more? Is it just easier to eat out? Are my kids involved in more activities? I’m really not sure. But I do know it’s worth taking time for family meals.

The goal is to have at least a couple of meals at home together every week. Seems simple until you map out schedules, but it’s worth the effort.

Here are a few reasons to take time to eat as a family:

» There’s clear evidence that meal structure can heavily influence children’s long-term health. Kids and teens who share meals with their family three or more times per week are significantly less likely to be overweight, more likely to eat healthy foods and less likely to have eating disorders, according to a 10-year study on the protective role of family meals in the Journal of Pediatrics.

» With each additional family meal shared each week, adolescents are less likely to show symptoms of depression, less likely to use/abuse drugs and less likely to engage in delinquent acts, according to a study on family dinners and adolescent health in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

» Adolescents who participate in even one or two family meals per week are less likely to be overweight or obese in adulthood than adolescents who never participate in family meals, according to an article in Public Health Nutrition.

» When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than those who cook less or not at all.

The bottom line? Eating with your family is a healthy thing to do. Make it a priority and your kids’ health will benefit.


Q: Is instant brown rice as healthy as long-grain brown rice?

A: Yes it is, and it’s a much better alternative to white rice, which has less fiber. Prepping long-grain brown rice can take up to 45 to 50 minutes to cook on the stove (twice the prep time of white rice). Instant rice is stopped just short of being fully cooked.

Nutritionally, it’s not that different from slower-cooking brown rice. Long-grain brown rice may lose a few nutrients during instant rice’s processing, but the difference is very small.

Walnut and Panko Crispy Fish Fillets

Here’s a quick family meal to try: walnut and Panko crispy fish fillets. It’s from California Walnuts.


» ¾ cup walnuts, finely chopped

» ¾ cup Panko breadcrumbs

» 1 teaspoon garlic salt

» ½ teaspoon dried dill

» 1 pound cod fillets, cut into 3-inch-long pieces

» ½ cup flour

» 2 eggs, beaten

» 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard

» Cooking spray

» Lemon wedges

Lemon Dill Topping

» ¼ cup Greek yogurt, plain

» 1 teaspoon lemon juice

» ¼ teaspoon garlic salt

» ⅛ teaspoon dried dill


Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil; coat with spray. In a shallow dish, stir together walnuts, breadcrumbs, garlic, salt and dill. In a second shallow dish, beat together eggs and mustard.

Place flour in a separate shallow dish. Roll fish pieces in the flour and then in the egg mixture and then in the walnut mixture and place on baking sheet. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Serve immediately with lemon wedges and lemon dill topping.


Serves 4

Per serving: 400 calories; 31 grams protein; 27 grams carbohydrate; 19 grams fat; 165 milligrams cholesterol; 2 grams fiber; 470 milligrams sodium

— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contact her at, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois, and the current president of the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contact her at, and follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd. The opinions expressed are her own.